Wednesday, July 28, 2010

United we... drop the ball?

While browsing current events yesterday, I came across this story about a 9-year-old boy who was flying as an unaccompanied minor, and somehow missed his connecting flight while traveling from San Francisco to Ottawa, by way of Chicago O'Hare. The young boy was flying back from visiting his father. I won't go into a lot of details about the article, you can read that yourself, but suffice it to say that while under the care of United Airline per their unaccompanied minor policy (and for a generous fee, might I add), the boy missed his (already delayed) connecting flight, and no one noticed it until his mother arrived at the airport to pick him up and could not locate him. It took the boy calling his mother on his cell phone for her to be able to gather any information about his whereabouts.

Talk about a friggin' mess.

Having put my own then 9-year-old son on his first unaccompanied flight just last summer to visit my parents up north, this whole thing was rather alarming for me. It's the kind of thing that I worried out loud about during the planning for said unaccompanied flight, and was told, repeatedly, by my husband, mother, and brother, that I was worrying "too much". Of course, we put our kid on a direct flight (partially because the airline we chose, er, were stuck with, would only allow this method, but mostly because I myself refuse to fly with layovers, given the cluster-fuck that is air travel, and so it eased my mind), and fortunately, he did fine and said that he was well cared for during his trip by the flight attendants. But things like this DO in fact happen, and I quickly emailed the article to my various family members, and later, read it aloud to my husband, as supporting evidence that I was not "worrying too much".

But aside from my enthusiasm for being able to say "I told you so", I was more interested in the comments at the bottom of the article than in the contents of the article itself.

People were blaming the parents left and right. "Oh, I would NEVER put my child on a flight alone", "My son is twenty five, and I won't even leave him with a babysitter", and "The mother should have been right there on that plane next to him" were comments spewed by "perfect moms", and I suspect, perfect "not currently moms, but feel that they can comment on how to appropriately parent" from all over the cyber world. I am (obviously) as judgmental as they come (hence the name of this blog), but I am going to come right out and say that these people are pointing fingers in the wrong direction.

I worry about my children as much as the next person. I don't let my 10 year old ride his bike in our subdivision because we don't have sidewalks, and I have personally witnessed people flying down our road like it is the back stretch in Nascar. I always remind my son "don't talk to strangers". I don't allow him to use the microwave without permission. But I let him fly unaccompanied more than 700 miles. Why?

Well, because the airline has a FORMAL POLICY dictating how unaccompanied minors will be treated, how their tickets should be booked, which flights they should fly, and how they should be dropped off/picked up. I guess they have these policies in place because hundreds of thousands of children fly alone each year. And, as a former medical professional, I am bent, set and pressed by policies and procedures. As far as I'm concerned, there should be a manual for how to clean the bathroom and how to bathe the baby, so that each time it is done, it is done to the same standards. I am comforted by policies and procedures. They make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. So when I called up a certain airline that I hate but yet have to fly because they are the only airline that flies direct from Raleigh to Detroit, and inquired as to their policy on minors flying alone, I was actually impressed with how seriously the took it. I actually only entertained the idea of him flying alone because I felt that after doing a minimal amount of research, I would arrive at the conclusion that they would take as good care of my son as they do the hundreds of thousands of pieces of lost luggage each year, and then I would have solid evidence to keep him at home, and my ever-meddling mother and her husband would have no choice but to stuff it. But, like I said, they had a policy. So, we ended up letting him go.

And you know what happened?

He made it to and from his destinations, safe and sound. No bumps, no bruises, no molestation, nothing. Even his luggage made it. The policy and procedure worked well.

If it hadn't though, and if he'd gotten lost, kidnapped, misdirected while in the care of said airline, would be be MY fault, or would it be THEIR fault?

Here's what I'm going to do to draw a fair comparison. Like I mentioned earlier, in the health care industry, there is a P&P and a standard of care for EVERYTHING, from when and how a dietary aid can drop off a meal tray, to how to handle a patient admitted for acute abdominal pain. If you place your child in the care of a medical facility and the staff within it, and they mess up, is it YOUR fault for taking your child there? Would you tell that to the shady ass, money hungry attorneys who would undoubtedly start hounding you to sue said facility/providers after a screw up?

I think NOT.

The people to blame here are not the parents who put their kid on the airplane. Chances are, and I'm just guessing here, that some douche bag judge with minimal knowledge of the family or the circumstances, decided based on paperwork that the kid needed to fly to and from his parent's residences X number of times per year, and Mom and Dad are following orders. (This brings me to a whole other topic on government intrusion into parenting, and how they, quite honestly, should just get the F-U-C-K out of the whole thing, but that's for another day. Another LONG, LONG day.) Usually, one parent has to bear the brunt of these transportation costs, and while you wouldn't leave your 2 year old at home alone while you head out to work because of the cost of day care, Mom and Dad shouldn't have to ride along to be sure that the kid makes it safe to his destination if there is a formal policy in place set to handle situations just like this. It wasn't long ago that people put their kids on busses without any formal policy or procedure to visit grandparents/family across the country, and not only did no one rant about what idiots they were, but nothing happened to the majority of the kids, and they made it home just fine. And it's not as if this kids parents plopped a ticket in his hand and told him to fend for himself, they'd see him when he arrived back home, these are paid professionals who are entrusted with caring for unaccompanied children for a hefty additional fee. United wasn't doing this out of the kindness of their hearts.

Now, this is not the same as the many other cases of misplaced blame in society: the burglar who injures himself breaking into your house, the idiots who spill hot coffee on themselves and blame it on the restaurant, the kid who falls out of the cart at Wal-Mart because his illiterate 14 year old mother didn't strap him in, or the family who ignores their toddler in favor of watching "Teen Mom", while meanwhile the baby wanders into your yard and drowns in your baby pool while you are at work. Those people are friggin' morons who DEFINITELY didn't do a whole lot of thinking or planning. This is entirely different. This is not about someone simply exercising poor judgement and tossing their kid on a plane to fend for himself. This is about a company not meeting it's responsibility to provide a service because they ignored their own P&P. This is about a company failing to meet it's obligation to its customer. Sure, flights get delayed and cancelled all of the time, but to not even call this woman?!

The whole thing just earns United a big fat FAIL in my book.

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